Halifax Comedy Festival
October 20 to 27
Victoria Theatre/Halifax Minster
It’s hard to keep a straight face talking to Debra Stephenson when you’re not sure whose voice will come down the telephone next, writes Tim Worsnop.
In the half hour we chatted about her career and upcoming show Night of 100 Voices - at the Victoria Theatre, Halifax on Sunday, October 21 - Debra slips into the guise of Margaret Thatcher, then Pam Ayres and finally her current favourite take-off, TV presenter Lorraine Kelly.
“I’m married to a Scotsman you see so I particularly love the accent,” says Debra, a mum of two and native of Hull, who lives in Poole, Dorset with her family.
She always wanted to perform and as a six year old, coached by her dad, the family’s very own ‘Mike Yarwood’ (he would amuse her with his own versions of Disney characters Donald Duck, Pluto and Mickey Mouse among others) ,she learned how to mimic Margaret Thatcher .... “when I become Prime Minister.’
“I was told it was very good and encouraged and I thought this was the thing to do,” she said. Debra was also a talented singer and thanks to her nan’s wonderful collection of records she learned how to copy stars like Shirley Bassey, Barbra Streisand, Marilyn Monroe , Lulu, Sandie Shaw and Kate Bush.
“Somehow these voices were uploaded into my brain,” she says.
Her first public performance was at school, not taking off teachers, but reciting a Pam Ayres poem as Pam Ayres ... “Oh I wish I’d looked after me teeth...”.
Her big break came at 14 when she won through to the All Winners final of Opportunity Knocks broadcast live from the London Palladium.
Early years working in Social Clubs around Hull - her first paid gig was at 13 when she was paid £12 for a 15 minute slot over Sunday lunch - instilled in her a real work ethic and resilience.
A glance at her packed CV shows she has not just relied on being an impressionist but has proved herself to be an extremely good actress with starring roles in TV series like Bad Girls, Coronation Street and Playing the Field. And she has done a stack of radio work too.
“I am extremely grateful because the chances of succeeding are very slim. It is a precarious career,” she says.
Night of 100 Voices - part of Halifax Comedy Festival - is something she is extremely proud of, and she’s only taking it on stage in Hull, Halifax and Poole this year.
“I just love it. This is my lifetime’s work and it is mine,” says Debra who most recent TV series The Imitation Game - “it was like a big party for impressionists with games” - has just finished its Sunday night run on ITV.
“I literally do 100 or more impressions across the show. It’s an immersive experience and I like to think we all have fun together,” says Debra.
So what of the future? Last year she starred in the touring version of Son of A Preacher Man, the story of Dusty Springfield, and she admits she would love a role in a West End play.
With her drive and determination who would back against that happening? Not me.
The Halifax Comedy Festival kicks off on October 20 with Comedy Club for Kids.
October 21: Debra Stephenson - Night of 100 Voices.
October 22: Comedy stars from Britain’s Got Talent including Lost Voice Guy.
October 24: Ross Noble is El Hablador.
October 25: Eleanor Conway: Walk of Shame 2 (Reality Bites).
October 26: Dick and Liddy’s Comedy Club.
October 27: Jay Foreman’s Disgusting Songs for Revolting Children.
October 27: Comedy Congregation at the Minster.
All shows take place at the Victoria Theatre, Halifax except the final show Comedy Congregation which will be performed in Halifax Minster.
For full details on shows and ticketing go to https://www.victoriatheatre.co.uk/hxcf